Postpartum Progress, an organization near to my heart, held their inaugural Climb Out of Darkness fundraiser on June 21. Well, mostly on June 21. The idea was for survivors of – and women currently battling – postpartum mood disorders to walk, hike, climb, or something similar to celebrate their status as Warrior Moms while raising money to help support further research by Postpartum Progress. But the lovely ladies on the board of directors recognized that the people who would participate are, in all likelihood, mothers! And they live literally all over the world. This makes planning a specific location and time incredibly difficult, since they didn’t want to exclude anyone.
So they let people pick: time, date, location, length of walk – everything. Some women were able to walk long distances on the 21st. Some women just walked around their block because it’s all they could handle at the moment emotionally. Some climbed really, really tall mountains. Some are walking in a couple of months. And some women simply held on to the hope that they would be able to walk next year. In 40 states and 7 countries, women and those who love them gathered – outdoors, indoors, and in spirit – to show their gratitude and strength and bravery.
Disclaimer: Please ignore the frequent verb-tense changes. I have a small child and he is currently still awake despite having been “put to bed” over two hours ago. At least he’s in his crib fake coughing and asking for water, singing to himself, and saying “Whoa! Whoa! Cool!” instead of crying. Anyhow, this means my brain isn’t functioning as well as it did back when I was getting my degree in English.
I set out on the morning of the 21st to hike a 5k in Durand Eastman Park. I am not a hiker, nor a walker, and really I’m just not an outdoorsy sort of person. I am, however, 1) stubborn and 2) a photographer; so I managed to convince myself to go despite being 1) out of shape and 2) not into these sorts of things in general.
When I arrived at the park, the first creature I saw was a red-winged blackbird. Unfortunately I didn’t get a great shot of it but I was glad to see it. Red-winged blackbirds are some of my favorite birds, as they look so common at first. When they fly, though, there’s always that unexpected crimson and it is lovely.
I headed down the first of the three loops I planned to hike that morning and almost immediately came across a Great Blue Heron, just hanging out waiting for breakfast. Next up was a solitary swan, which just seemed immeasurably sad to me. Two weeks later, I’m still hopeful that its mate was just off keeping their eggs warm or something. It was clearly an odd swan, though, as it liked to paddle around with one leg out of the water. SO WEIRD.
The strangeness of that swan’s right foot made me completely not realize how muddy and mucky the path around the lake was. I was just walking along laughing at the bird and suddenly I was in mud up to my ankles. With the mud came mosquitoes. And spider webs. And I started thinking – less than half a mile in – that THIS is exactly why I am not an outdoors person. People do this for fun?! And they honestly enjoy it?! Come on, now.
Slog, slog, slog. Squish. Slog. Slap. Random arm flailing to get old spider web out of my mouth. Please don’t trip and drop the new camera in the mud. Ugh! What is with this MUD.
Then the trail forked and I went the correct way, except it actually wasn’t. The mud was gone but now there were hills. I didn’t remember those hills being on the map, or in the trail descriptions. Oh, well – I AM VOLUNTARILY HIKING AND PROUD OF MYSELF. But I really was lost. Quite lost, in fact. I came out onto a paved road at one point, which I told myself was just the bottom part of the trail I thought I was on. (It wasn’t.) Then I found a way back into the woods that I congratulated myself on finding because I was back on track. (I wasn’t.) I came out on a paved road again forty-five minutes later, about a hundred feet away from where I had headed back in.
What. The. What.
I was so frustrated, and hot, and sweaty, and lost, and tired. I had everything planned out so carefully and it didn’t matter. My plans just weren’t enough. So I called for help to get back to my car. My gracious husband looked up where I was and told me that I was headed in the right direction: I just had to keep going.
I kept going and passed a field with red-winged blackbirds everywhere, and a bank of wildflowers that just happened to have some of my favorites in it. Just before reaching my car, I stopped on the beach to pause and breathe deep. (And I saw a dog riding on a paddle board with his person, which doesn’t fit with anything really but was quite entertaining.)
So, friends! Do you see?
I was prepared. I looked up my route and calculated exactly how I thought things would go. I started out my journey by seeing some beautiful things, and then got stuck in mud. Awful, sticky, deep muck. There were occasional patches of forget-me-nots growing in the dark sludge – bright blue against the black – but I didn’t really pay attention because seriously, my shoes were about to be sucked right off of my feet. I got out of the mud only to get lost in the woods. I thought I fixed it and was back on track; but I wasn’t. I was only more lost. And more exhausted. And more helpless. And alone.
But I called for help. And the answer was, “You’ll get there. Just keep going.”
When I got home and looked at the pictures I had taken, they were also a mirror.
Shadows and light.
Water-strider lines in algae.
There was so much brokenness, and so much beauty.
And gratitude and strength and bravery.
I am climbing out of the darkness.
Postscript: Thank you oh so very very much to those of you who have donated to Postpartum Progress during this fundraiser. Postpartum Progress was the first and brightest ray of light in my darkness, and I cannot express how much it means for people I love to be helping women who are where I was. You can donate through December 31, 2015 if you would like to do so over at my Crowdrise page.